The Philadelphia Eagles kicked off their 2021 NFL season on a major high note with a 32-6 win over the Atlanta Falcons. While many jaded fans will play down the fact it came against a team that saw over 20+ fresh faces come on the roster, it’s still a positive first impression under new head coach Nick Sirianni.
Jalen Hurts was the star of the show at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, tossing for 264 passing yards and three touchdowns in a Player of the Game performance. Hurts, the second-year player, now takes over as the No. 1 in Philadelphia and showed little signs of worry in the season-opening win.
Another impressive performer was first round pick DeVonta Smith, who looked calm and composed in his NFL debut, registering his first touchdown catch.
The Eagles did a lot of things right against the Falcons, but should face a stingier test in Week 2 at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
Here’s a closer look at my five key observations from the win:
1. Jalen Hurts’ decision-making
Hurts became the third player in NFL history to complete 70% of his passes, throw for three touchdowns or more with no interceptions, register 250+ yards or more, and rush for 60+yards in a single game. I know that was a mouthful of information, but for a second-year quarterback, it’s an impressive stat to deliver.
Hurts took what the defense gave him in Atlanta, making the smart throws and running when he needed to. He showed great touch on the touchdown pass to Smith, and also made sure to spread the ball around to seven different teammates. The former Alabama and Oklahoma product only had eight incompletions on the day, showing that his ability to connect with his offensive weapons is getting better.
Hurts will face tougher defenses throughout this season, but, overall, Sunday’s performance was a glimpse of what he can do when given time in the pocket.
2. DeVonta Smith’s patience
Smith has a lot of pressure on him to perform for the Eagles as the team searches for a No. 1 option. The 2021 first-round pick didn’t light up the stat sheet in Atlanta, but did what was asked of him in the win.
Smith led the Eagles with six receptions for 71 yards and one touchdown catch. His touchdown came in the first half, and the former Heisman trophy winner did an excellent job of not only staying in bounds, but showing patience in the corner of the end zone. The Alabama product showed off his ability not only in the red zone, but also dashing across the middle of the field for easy pickups.
Smith’s role will continue to grow if he continues to catch the ball and make positive plays.
DeVonta Smith is the 2nd Eagles WR with 5+ Rec in his first career game since 2000.
DeSean Jackson is the other with 6 Rec in his first career game. pic.twitter.com/HgkqnxUZ52
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 12, 2021
3. Defensive line depth
The Eagles’ defensive line is highlighted by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, but it was rotational players who delivered the lone sacks of the game. Javon Hargrave and Hassan Ridgeway totaled the only three sacks by the Eagles defense, showing that Jonathan Gannon can work a number of the guys into the mix in order to get to the quarterback.
Philadelphia has always given opportunities to guys on the defensive front and both Hargrave and Ridgeway delivered in the second half of the game. Matt Ryan didn’t have many opportunities to take shots downfield, and if not for the aggressiveness of the defensive line, maybe this scoreline finishes a bit closer than 32-6.
With some other questions still needed to be answered on the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line looks like it will be the strength of the back end again in 2021.
4. Running back flexibility
Miles Sanders is the Eagles’ No. 1 option at running back, but Kenny Gainwell’s strong debut should see offensive coordinator Shane Steichen mix it up through the 2021 season. Sanders delivered 113 combined yards on offense, including a two-point conversion, while Gainwell scored his first professional touchdown to go along with 43 combined yards of his own.
Sanders brings physicality to the backfield, while Gainwell’s addition of speed and versatility helped keep the Falcons on alert for most of the Eagles’ offensive possessions. In addition to Hurts’ ability to run, the Eagles could force a lot of problems for opposing defense as the season pushes forward.
Keeping all three players healthy is key, but the trio could be something special if they do remain on the field.
Kenneth Gainwell is getting a healthy amount of two-minute drill usage over Miles Sanders. Overall snaps are 60% Sanders, 43% Gainwell.
— Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) September 12, 2021
5. Special teams finishes perfect on the day
Kicker Jake Elliott and New punter Arryn Siposs made the most of their opportunities as well, going 100% on their chances.
Siposs averaged 47.3 gross yards per punt, with two landing inside the 10-yard line. After spending last season on the Detroit Lions practice squad, Siposs looks to have landed a consistent role with the Eagles for 2021, bearing any setbacks.
Elliott made all three of his PAT kicks, and also nailed a 43-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. His kicking was a bit spotty in 2020, but he looks determined to turn the tide in 2021.